Last year saw Robin Van Persie, then donning the colours of Arsenal, scoop the Player of the Year award as voted for by his fellow professionals for virtually carrying Arsenal as captain, ensuring they secured Champions League football. Feasibly, a year on from that awards night, he could be keeping that accolade on his mantelpiece for another year.
Despite others such as Juan Mata and Michael Carrick, who have also excelled this season, being selected in the nomination process, the likelihood is that the winner will be a shootout between United’s number 20, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez.
Bale has really come of age as a player this season, winning games for Villas Boas’ men single-handedly at times and often looking unplayable. Suarez too has enjoyed a fruitful season, leapfrogging Van Persie has the league’s top scorer, he has proven himself to be one of the best strikers around.
But the award centres around who has made the most telling difference for their side over the 9 month onslaught, it is not just about natural talent- otherwise the same band of players would be selected year in year out.
Van Persie has made the biggest impact out of anyone in this season’s Premier League. After City took the title last year, many predicted that a period of City hegemony would ensue and that United would slowly be on the decline as a club. The signing of Van Persie has transformed the dynamics of football in Manchester, this can only be backed up with the caveat if he had signed for City would United be in such a commanding position in the title race? The answer is a concrete ‘no’.
The signing of Van Persie came as a body blow to Roberto Mancini, who was desperate for him to play in blue. He has been the catalyst for United’s resurgence this season. The league does not lie- the best team have been Manchester United, largely down to the contributions of their Dutchman. Although Bale’s and Suarez’s efforts this season cannot be ignored, their teams are below their fiercest rivals Arsenal and Everton respectively, and only Jack Wilshere is among the nominees from their respective teams. This indicates that their contributions have not been as telling as people may believe. Van Persie has been the main difference why United and City are separated by 13 points.
The votes are cast by fellow professionals and ex-players. One thing that could ultimately cost Bale and Suarez is their antics on the field. Both are no strangers to on-field controversy, both being labelled as divers and Suarez doesn’t always handle himself in the right manner when it comes to sportsmanship. I only state this from the perspective that the decision process is made by their opponents, will they have taken a dim light to Bale’s and Suarez’s actions and theatrics? Arguably it should not boil down to this, of course the nominees are there for their efforts and outstanding talent, but another important factor when it comes to the voting is the players’ all-round behaviour and professionalism, something that might swing the vote in Van Persie’s favour.
Despite Van Persie recently going through a barren spell in front of goal, he notched a goal in 10 consecutive games for United in the first half of the season, both Suarez and Bale’s longest consecutive goal spree was only 5 games. As a result, their goals have come in clusters, and not on as regular basis in comparison to Van Persie. Surely it is better and more decisive to score 10 important goals in 10 consecutive games rather than score a bagful one week then go goal-shy for a few games?
Many would argue that a league winners medal for Van Persie would suffice as recognition in itself, but he has been the difference. It is largely down to his impact that United have been runaway leaders since Christmas. Suarez and Bale have been red-hot in the second half of the season but their efforts could be in vain and without success as they could face bitter blows- Spurs might only end up with Europa League football and Liverpool may miss out on Europe altogether and finish below bitter rivals Everton. There is the difference.
Van Persie has made the all-round biggest contributions, so people should not be surprised if he retains the award he currently possesses.